Microsoft Eyes Enterprise With New Mobile Server

Setting its sights squarely on Research In Motion (RIM), Microsoft announced Tuesday its first dedicated mobile device management server aimed at enterprise users.

The Microsoft System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 is a new mobile-dedicated server solution that helps companies manage Windows Mobile phones much the way they do Windows-based laptops and PCs. The technology allows companies to deliver new applications to phones over the air as well as connect people via virtual private network with security-enhanced access to critical data, the company said.

“People expect to be able to do more and more with their mobile phone,” said company CEO Steve Ballmer in his keynote address to the CTIA conference currently under way in San Francisco. “We’re building on our expertise across servers, operating systems and services to deliver Windows Mobile experiences that bridge the things people want to do at work and at home.”

The new server will be available in the first half of next year.

Industry Support

Also at the CTIA conference, Microsoft announced a strategic alliance with Enterprise Mobile, which will build, deploy and manage custom-made solutions that will work with a variety of mobile operators and phone manufacturers.

In addition, Microsoft, AT&T and Samsung unveiled the Blackjack II, a new Windows Mobile 6 phone featuring GPS (Global Positioning System) that will be able to support Mobile Device Manager. The AT&T Tilt and other Windows Mobile 6 smart devices to be introduced by AT&T later this year also will support Mobile Device Manager.

Following Microsoft’s Mobile Device Manager announcement, a raft of cellular device companies announced support, including Sprint, HP, HTC, i-mate, Intermec, Motorola, Palm and Samsung, in addition to AT&T. Service partners supporting the technology include Avanade, CSC, EDS, Getronics, HP and TCS.

“For AT&T, success in the mobile space means making powerful solutions available to business through which they can mobilize their workforces, and the Windows Mobile platform delivers service offerings that provide our customers with a robust and differentiated experience,” said Kent Mathy, president of the Business Markets Group for AT&T.

“By supporting Mobile Device Manager on several levels, including by making our entire Windows Mobile 6 portfolio updatable to Mobile Device Manager and ensuring that those smart devices are compatible with AT&T’s network and other wireless data services, we are building upon our long and successful alliance with Microsoft to provide businesses with a compelling mobile solution,” Mathy said.

Taking on RIM

Microsoft’s new enterprise mobile offering is expected to compete directly with RIM’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

“Microsoft definitely wants to kill RIM,” Greg DeMichillie, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told the E-Commerce Times. “What I find interesting, though, is that while one half of the company wants to kill RIM, the other half wants to go further to support it.”

In its hosted version of Exchange e-mail, for example, Microsoft said it will support BlackBerry devices, DeMichillie noted. “They’re pitching large organizations to use Windows Mobile, but they’re also telling smaller ones, ‘We’ll host your BlackBerry server.'”

RIM is not on Microsoft’s “Top 5” list of competitors, but it is on its “Top 10,” DeMichillie added.

Chipping Away

The new announcement is by no means a blockbuster that will do RIM in, he added. “No company that looked at both platforms and chose BlackBerry will suddenly change their mind based on this announcement.”

Rather, it’s another small chink in RIM’s armor.

“I think what Microsoft will do is what it always does, which is to keep coming at it until their competitor makes a mistake, and be ready to capitalize on it when they do,” DeMichillie explained. “Microsoft’s fundamental business is Windows and Office, so it can afford to keep plugging away at the enterprise phone space and wait for RIM to trip.”

Closing the Gap

In the long run, what Microsoft is doing is “trying to turn the smartphone into more of a laptop-like device that can be fully managed and centrally controlled and secured,” Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst with the Enderle Group, told the E-Commerce Times. “This makes the mobile phone more of a corporate asset than a security liability.”

In Microsoft’s competition with RIM, “this closes the gap quite dramatically,” Enderle added. “It might even give Microsoft an advantage, at least on the software side.”

By supporting Microsoft’s new platform, HP could ultimately end up the strongest player in the space, Enderle concluded.

“They’ve got an enterprise sales force and a RIM-like line of devices,” he said. “Coupled with Microsoft’s software, that may be where we’ll find the strongest solution.”

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